How Tall Was Goliath?
One of the most controversial aspects of the David and Goliath story is the biblical account of the physical size of Goliath. In the book of 1 Samuel Goliath is said to be six cubits and a span. This translates to a height of approximately 9 feet 6 inches. The reason this presents such a problem for many is that if Goliath was indeed over nine feet tall, he would be the largest man ever known to exist. No scientific evidence has ever been found to indicate any human has ever grown to a height of over nine feet, although records indicate some have come very close. Just because no evidence has been discovered of nine foot or taller humans does not mean they could not have existed. It is possible Goliath was a phenomenon, that he was indeed the tallest man ever to walk the earth and we simply have not found his skeletal remains, if they still exist. I believe rather than saying Goliath was a one of a kind, we should look more closely at other possibilities.
A cubit is the length between a man's wrist and his elbow. Generally this is considered to be 18 inches. Since the exact length of a cubit is debatable, the exact height of Goliath cannot be determined. (Note: Some scholars put a cubit at 20 or more inches which would make Goliath's height over 10 feet.)
It is interesting to note that large skeletons have been recovered by archaeologist in and around the city of Gath, the hometown of Goliath. While these skeletons are certainly not giants, they are much larger than the average skeletal remains of the same period. It would seem this area, for whatever reason, was home to a people who were taller and larger than average. This scientific evidence lends credence to the biblical account of Goliath being well above average in height and overall size. While helpful, this does not help determine the true height of Goliath.
One of the tallest men on record was named Robert Wadlow who grew to the amazing height of 8 feet 11 inches and weighed over 400 pounds at the time of his death.His amazing height was the result of a problem with his pituitary gland. Amazingly, Wadlow was still growing at the time of his death. Other individuals have also grown to a height of more than eight feet.
"In children who are still growing, too much growth hormone can cause a condition called gigantism. These children have exaggerated bone growth and an abnormal increase in height." - Mayo Clinic
This is normally due to a disease known as acromegaly. This occurs when a tumor, normally non-cancerous, applies pressure to the pituitary gland, thereby releasing large amounts of growth hormones. This affliction, while rare, is still seen in modern times. It generally affects young adults and is treatable if properly diagnosed in the early stages. Doctor Vladimir Berginer believes Goliath suffered from this condition which accounted for his great height. Doctor Berginer practices in Israel and regularly treats patients with acromegaly. He claims the description in the Bible closely matches the symptoms of a person suffering from acromegaly. Because the disease can affect the person's eyesight, Doctor Berginer theorizes that Goliath may have had limited eyesight, or tunnel vision. Because of this it would have been possible for David to use quick movements and avoid Goliath, then get close enough to attack with his sling. While this theory can explain Goliath's great height, it fails in several other areas.
A growth problem due to a problem with the pituitary gland or acromegaly results in other physical issues. Some of these symptoms include fatigue and muscle weakness, impaired vision, back pain, as well as pain and limited mobility in their joints. None of these are conditions which a warrior would find useful. In fact, any of these would create a hindrance on the battlefield and leave the person vulnerable. There is no evidence Goliath was anything but an imposing warrior, free of disease or defect. The problems associated with acromegaly are so severe the person often has trouble with even simple movements. Robert Wadlow had to have leg braces and used a cane to get about. His health was so affected by his condition he died at the age of just 22. While a disease such as acromegaly can account for the height of Goliath, it is doubtful anyone with this condition would be imposing on a battlefield.
If we are to remove the possibility Goliath was the tallest man who ever lived, and if we remove the possibility his size was the result of a disease, then what remains to explain his great height and bulk? For these answers we must look at the scriptures. In the Maoretic text, which is used in most modern translations of the Bible, Goliath's height is said to be 6 cubits and a span, or 9 feet 6 inches. If we look at the Septuagint text, which is older than the Maoretic text, we find a slightly different account.
The Septuagint text records Goliath's height as being 4 cubits and a span, or 6 feet 6 inches in height. While this is a much more modest height, it remains approximately one foot over the average man of the day. There is also evidence Goliath's intimidation was not just in his height, but also in his bulk and strength. In modern times, if I were to stand next to Shaquille O'neil I might well call him a giant of a man. The height recorded in the Septuagint text can also be confirmed by two other sources.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are among the oldest known copies of the old testament in existence. Fortunately for our discussion, the battle between David and Goliath is recorded in a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here, like the Septuagint text, Goliath's height is recorded as being 4 cubits and a span. Jewish historian Flavious Josephus also recorded the events of David and Goliath. In his writings Josephus records, "... for he was of four cubits and a span in tallness, and had about him weapons suitable to the largeness of his body..." Josephus confirms the Septuagint text and also confirms Goliath was not just taller than the average man, but his body was apparently very muscular and larger than average.
In appears an error was possibly made in the translations of the Masoretic text. It is unknown when or how this error may have been made, or by whom. Without knowing who made the error, or even when the error was made, it is impossible to determine the motive of the person who made the error. Was it an intentional exaggeration, or an honest mistake? We will never know. Fortunately, we have multiple sources which provide us with the information we were seeking. Given the scientific facts, archeological evidence and the text of scripture as well as independent historians, it appears Goliath's height was closer to 6 feet 6 inches than 9 feet 6 inches. This brings Goliath into much more human terms and this evidence removes one of the major stumbling blocks critics have to accepting the story as historical. While removing the stumbling block, this theory does not alter the Biblical story's significance in any way. The core elements of the story remain accurate and the final outcome of the battle was still dependent on David's faith, which sealed his victory and this story's place in history.